My Honest Holiday “Newsletter”

holiday card

Jan Willem Geertsma –

I’m not sure why I decided to write this. Maybe I wanted to take a stab at a more honest holiday update, one that mentions many sides of reality, from the exciting and joyful to the stressful and painful to the mundane and boring. It has actually been awhile since I’ve read a Christmas card newsletter, though, and of those I’ve read, I will say I have read several that give a fair portrayal of life (rather than the stereotypical look-how-great-my-life-and-kids-are).

Or, maybe I wanted to try to get a little more specific about who I am.  While much of my writing is intensely personal, it is often purposefully and necessarily vague.  I am amazed (and maybe a little jealous) of writers like Sarah Bessey or Micah Murray who, for whatever reason, are at a place in life where they can put it all out there.

So, read this how you will.  Read it as an attempt at vulnerability.  Read it as an insight into where all these thoughts come from.  Read it as just as an update.   Skim it for something that interests you.  Or don’t read it at all.

I never have any control of if and how you read what I write, anyway.  So, while saying “read this how you will” is kind of unnecessary… humor me.

Related pieces are linked throughout!


In January, I turned 28.  It was hard to have the second birthday go by without a call from my dad.  Still, I enjoyed turning older, because I’m really excited about getting closer to 30. People have told me that once they turned 30, they felt more settled in who they were.  I “donated” my birthday to and raised over $1,000 for their education fund for areas suffering from extreme global poverty.

Also in January, PRISM Magazine published my piece, Christianity: Now in 3D and Living Color.  It was a significant piece for me, and I love PRISM’s willingness to explore complex issues.


In February, I think we had school like 2 days.  Between “too cold” days, snow days, and ice days, there was next to no routine at school, for the teachers and the students.  It was frustrating and stressful, especially as expectations for test scores bear down on teachers.


March marked 6-ish months of dating a really great guy.  Also, 6 months of me trying not to overthink and freak out about dating a really great guy.  Calm, wise friends reminded me again and again to just live.

My best friend and I spent a few days in Cleveland.  The city’s main attraction was it was a doable distance between the two of us.  Cleveland gets a bad rap, and while it’s not the most exciting city in the world, there are some cool things about it.  We enjoyed taking advantage of the Cleveland Playhouse’s reasonably-priced and varied productions (in one weekend, we saw the touring cast of the a cappella singing group reality show “The Sing-Off,” a stage version of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and the national touring company of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat”).


April was the second anniversary of my dad’s death.  Cruelly, the anniversary coincided with Easter weekend this year.  The week before, my attempt to participate in my church’s annual Palm Sunday processional lasted all of two minutes.  I can usually deal with my lifelong aversion to large-group forms of expression, but I just didn’t have much in me that day.  I left the service and cried for awhile, streaking mascara on the great guy’s poor shirt.


I started off May with my third half-marathon.  I hadn’t trained as well as I had for my first two half-marathons (or my marathon, for that matter), I overheated quickly, and it just wasn’t my day.  I’m glad I did it, but it didn’t come with the same sense of satisfaction as my past races.

Because I missed church for my half-marathon, I also missed a rather important announcement.  At Bible study the next night, I found out my pastor was leaving.  I was shocked and upset, as I consider him part of my complete package of support and someone who has concretely demonstrated Christ’s presence to me.

The rest of May was really stressful.  Scheduling and coordinating at school came to such a point that I broke down and cried in my principal’s office, then begged a coworker to find someone to supervise her students and come help me because I could. not. stop. crying.

But sometimes when I’m really stressed, writing is really therapeutic.  So, I guess it’s not so coincidental that in May I also wrote one of my most popular posts ever: Excuse Me? An Education for Rock-Beats-Paper Ideology, a response to a picture that suggested getting engaged was a “better” accomplishment for a young woman than earning an academic degree.   Converge Magazine also picked up the piece.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “As a woman, an educated person, and a teacher, it makes my blood boil to hear the idea that furthering one’s learning is just ‘something to do’ since you don’t have a pretty ring on your finger.”


June was a whirlwind (although “whirlwind” sounds a bit too calm a term for it).  I found out I was switching to teaching first grade (after six years of teaching fourth grade), which is something I really wanted and was so excited to know it was going to happen.   However, it made the end of the year even crazier than usual, as I prepped to switch classrooms, teammates, and curriculum.  The day after school ended, I flew to the midwest for my best friend’s wedding.  So, that happened… and then it was back home.

Finally home, I slept for an entire day, followed by a week of little else but sleeping, eating, crying, and sleeping some more.  At least the whole ordeal distracted me from Father’s day.

I think I started playing kickball in June, too.  Yep.  Kickball.  I told the great guy that I would play if he would run a 5k with me.  He totally got the easier end of that deal.  But, it was fun, and we actually won some games (an apparent improvement over the team’s previous record).


In July I spent a week or so at my mom’s house, helping her with various tasks and spending several hours in the basement office sorting through several remaining piles of my dad’s personal effects.  I’ve spent a lot of time in that room over the past two years.  It has been a grueling, painful, deeply emotional task.  It is the kind of task that if you have never undertaken something like it, you could not possibly understand.  And I would not trade the experience for anything.

My mom, the great guy, and I had the random idea of going to Skyline Drive to see fireworks from an overlook for July 4th.  It was a neat experience, despite the unseasonably cold temperatures and forceful winds.  It’s amazing how changing your physical perspective can change your perspective in other ways, too.

While I was home, I polished up an important piece for me, “Unlearning Christian Marriage,” and sent it to Patheos blogger Zach Hoag as a guest post for his “Free Form Follow Friday” series.  With as much as I have written about singleness, marriage, and the church’s contortion of both, I had never quite summarized what I’d learned that way.  It was cathartic for me, and I hope encouraging and challenging for others.

Towards the end of July, my best friend came to visit me for a few days.  She studied while I worked on my book (tentatively titled The Call to Teach, a challenge and encouragement to teachers who teach as an expression of their faith).  I call it a “book,” even though it has yet to be substantial enough to deserve that description.  Although it’s slow going (mostly because opportunities to truly work on it are rare), I still hope to eventually obtain a publisher, finish it, and get it out there.


August meant hardcore preparation for the school year, a time that filled me with as much hopeful anticipation as it did gripping anxiety.  I knew knew knew I needed the grade change,  but I also had moments of wondering if I knew knew knew what the heck I was doing.

There was also just a lot going on in August—it seemed like every weekend involved one trip or another.  I went with my boyfriend to his friend’s wedding in New York City.  I appreciated the simplicity of the ceremony; especially because it was missing the male-female hierarchical language that most Christian ceremonies feel obligated to include.  It didn’t hurt that the ceremony took place at the top of a skyscraper with an incredible view of the city.  And the food was really, really good.


September started the school year.  I honestly can’t remember a whole lot about it.  I was very tired.  I was tentatively hopeful that I really, really liked teaching first grade.  (Spoiler alert: it turns out I do!)

In September, I also decided to publish a piece I’d been shaping for awhile: Me & Marriage: A Summarizing Statement.  Some readers had drawn some odd assumptions about my views from my pieces (the assumptions seemed odd to me, though perhaps understandable to others), and I wanted to clarify.  As I continue to write, I hope the piece stands as a foundational reminder of my approach to this deeply important issue.


October is a bit of a blur, too.  For my dad’s birthday, my mom, two of my sisters, and I met at an Italian restaurant to remember him.  He loved Italian food—especially spaghetti and baked lasagna.

Somewhere in there, a friend’s daughter encountered some significant health issues.  I had to check myself, because my coping mechanism is to do-do-do, so I tried to be as supportive as possible in a truly helpful way (not in a just-making-me-feel-better way).  Thankfully, this friend and I can be completely honest with each other, and she was good at telling me what was and wasn’t helpful.

October also marked a year-ish of dating my really great guy, which also meant I freaked out a little.  My calm and wise friends continued to tell me to breathe and be.

I dressed up like Pete the Cat for Halloween.  My students loved it.


November was, well, just last month.  It’s interesting that the closer I get to recent times, the harder they are to write about.  I don’t mean hard as in it’s more emotionally taxing.  More recent times just aren’t as processed, and it’s hard to know yet what stands out about them.

Something that November did contain, and that I haven’t mentioned yet, was a lot of work being on the search committee for a new pastor for my church.  Way back in June I was asked to be on the committee, which I absolutely wanted to do (remember, one of my coping mechanisms is to do-do-do).  It probably didn’t hurt that, right before the search committee nominations, my pastor read an excerpt from the piece I mentioned earlier, Christianity: Now in 3D and Living Color.  I’ve heard terrible stories about being on search committees, but my experience has been overwhelming positive… actually, it’s been one of the most encouraging church-related experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

Of course, November also meant Thanksgiving, and the beginning of this always mixed-emotion season.

At the end of November, my mom reached a landmark birthday.  Let me just tell you about my mom’s year for a minute: she just finished her coursework for her master’s in counseling, will begin her counseling internship in January, and in July completed a hilly 7 mile race using a run-walk program she’d been training with for months.  A friend recently told me, “Your mom sounds strong and ambitious… a lot like you!”


December marked my  5th anniversary of being in counseling.  I kind of forgot to celebrate this year.  I think last year I was so excited to celebrate four years—because four is almost five—that I forgot about it this year.  I know, you’re thinking, “Um, you celebrate that?”  Yeah, I do.  Because beginning (and continuing) therapy has been has been one of the most important shaping factors in my life.  (See my piece in The Well, A Counseling Story: How a Therapist Helps).

Most of December is still too recent to write about, but there were some fun moments… like going to a Christkindlmarkt (which made my German-born heart happy) and seeing Elf the musical.  And hosting my mom and my sister’s family (complete with three kids, 5 and under) at my house for Christmas morning.   I have a few different names, titles, and nicknames… but “Auntie Em” is definitely one of my favorite.



Well… there you have it.  My 2014.  As honest as I could be.  There’s still a heck of a lot I had to leave out.  But overall, it was a helpful way for me to process and “turn the page” on 2014 as 2015 (and my 29th birthday) approaches.   Maybe you and I could talk about those missing parts in person sometime.  I’d be honored to hear more about yours, too.

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One Response to My Honest Holiday “Newsletter”

  1. Andrea D says:

    Really liked reading about your year 🙂 I haven’t had much time to reflect on mine, but it seems like a good thing to do. I so appreciate your honesty. 🙂

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